Tuesday, January 31, 2017

In the Woods

--> I had a co-counselor at Camp Chicopee who was in charge of what was called "Nature and Pioneering." He was a bit of a cartoon character--nice man actually--but quirky enough to warrant attention because of his behavior.   His refrain when speaking to 10-14 year olds about camping was more amusing because of his butchered speech than the inherent wisdom of the message.  "In Da Woods" he would say, "Dere aint no luxuries."  He said it so often and every time with the butchered articulations that one co-counselor once remarked, "When brains were given out, he was in 'da woods.'"

I have read a few books with title references to the Woods in the last few years.  The most memorable of these was Man in the Woods which I thought was terrific both because of the story line and the metaphor--since the main character was in the woods as symbolically, as he was in the woods because a key event in the story took place in the woods.

Thinking of being in the thick of an impenetrable area dense with trees and brush allows us to imagine ourselves unable to extricate oneself from jungles of our own making.  How do we get out of our psychological woods without scarring ourselves irreparably?

I just finished In the Woods by Tana French.  A cousin recommended the novel when I spoke of enjoying a series of police procedurals by another author.  In the Woods was a debut novel for French and not that easy to get out of the multi site library system in the Boston area.  There must be twenty libraries around here that are part of the system.  Every one that had In the Woods indicated that the book was "out."  I put myself on a waiting list and, ten days later, a well read (as in damaged) copy arrived in the Waltham Public Library with my name on it.

Was it worth the wait? 

Not really. But it is growing on me to the extent that today I actually asked for the second novel in the series to be delivered to Waltham. 

Here's the story that is laid out right in the beginning, so I am not giving much, if anything, away. Two Dublin area detectives-a man and a woman--attempt to solve the murder of a young girl who was killed in the woods. Coincidentally or not, in the same woods, twenty years prior a trio of pals who cavorted there regularly, met with a devastating fate resulting with two of them vanishing and the third all bloody with no memory at all of what had taken place to him or to his mates.  One of the detectives trying to solve the current crime is actually the third child from the first. (The author very cleverly informs the reader how this is the case. It was so clever that I had to read the page three times to get it).  In what is really preposterous, most people in the community are unaware that this detective was a prior victim.

Stop here if you want to go read the book.

Lots of things about this book are disappointing. A key piece of the novel is about the relationship between the survivor and his detective partner. Yet, we never find out how the affection for the detectives which is apparent from day one, evolved. They are presented as platonic but clearly are not.  Also, the relationship of the detective survivor with a suspect from the current case is never developed until we discover that it had been taking place. There is no drawing of that relationship in any substantive way. Yet, that relationship is central to finding out how the crime was committed. Finally (and absolutely do not read this next sentence if you plan to read the book) while we find out who committed the current murder, we never find out about the perp in the earlier one despite a number of comments throughout that suggest that the two crimes are linked.

I guess, though, that if you take the novel away from the plot line the point is that it doesn't matter who committed the first crime, because the survivor will forever be in the woods, as will the perp of the current murder, as are some other key characters.  Events beyond our control and some in our control, put us in the woods.  And it is our challenge regardless of how we got in the woods, to figure out how to get the hell out.  Some of us do, some of us are so caught in the vines that we can not get out, and some of us don't even know we are in there.

One thing that is constant in this book and the other one I referred to earlier with Woods in the title, is that as my co-counselor once tried to inculcate, "In da woods, dere aint no luxuries".  So, while you might want to hang there for a while, after a stretch you need to get out.  

The book is convoluted and labyrinthine. So much is unnecessary, but sometimes authors of whodunnits throw in characters just to throw you off and it is kind of fun to try and figure out who did it and who did not.  I don't think Columbo himself could have figured out the doer in this book with the evidence presented to the reader.

I will be interested in seeing if the sequel to In the Woods is better than the first.

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